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Soma: The Divine Hallucinogen [NOOK Book]

Overview

ETHNOBOTANY

Soma has been shrouded in mystery for centuries. It is simultaneously a sacred hallucinogenic plant used in secret Hindu rituals, a personified god, and a vital cosmological principle. Yet despite its importance, scholars have been unable to positively identify soma or to pierce the mysteries surrounding its use. Summarizing previous research on the subject, David Spess goes far beyond his predecessors and shows that soma provides...
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Soma: The Divine Hallucinogen

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Overview

ETHNOBOTANY

Soma has been shrouded in mystery for centuries. It is simultaneously a sacred hallucinogenic plant used in secret Hindu rituals, a personified god, and a vital cosmological principle. Yet despite its importance, scholars have been unable to positively identify soma or to pierce the mysteries surrounding its use. Summarizing previous research on the subject, David Spess goes far beyond his predecessors and shows that soma provides an important key to understanding the earliest systemized methods of medicine, psychology, magic, rejuvenation, longevity, and alchemy. Most significant is that Spess’s intensive research has at last produced a convincing--and surprising--identification of the plants used to create the soma drink: Nelumbo nucifera, the sacred lotus of India, as well as members of the Nymphaea (water lily) genus.

With the renewed interest in the ritual use of psychoactive substances, shamanism, and psychic phenomena, Soma provides a much-needed bridge between Eastern and Western esoteric traditions. Contained within the enigmatic verses about soma in the R. g Veda is a secret about ourselves and the nature of our relationship to the world and cosmos. Soma makes this knowledge available to us once again.

DAVID L. SPESS has a master’s degree in microbiology/mycology and studied Sanskrit at the Naropa Institute. David has traveled throughout India and the Middle East researching this book. He was formerly a research mycologist for the FDA and has taught at the University of Colorado. He lives in New Mexico.
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Editorial Reviews

American Herb Association
This book comes highly recommended by Dr. Willard Johnson-my college professor of religious studies-and I second the vote for anyone interested in history, plant drugs, and the origins of Eastern Religion.
Willard Johnson
"Spess makes a daring thesis—that Indo-Aryan ritualists created an entheogenic ceremony that eventually spread throughout all of Eurasia—and he argues cogently that soma and its rituals reached all of the great civilizations, creating alchemy and magic. This book reveals the history of the divine soma, not just in India, but in all subsequent searches for the golden germ and the elixir of immortality. A well-argued and convincing book, worth reading many times over!"
Oscar Ichazo
"Soma brilliantly completes the enquiry on the scientific and botanical aspects, as well as the anthropological and cultural development, of this very important subject. A magnificent book destined to become a classic."
Wendy Doniger
"By far the most thorough survey of both the botanical and the psycho-spiritual aspects of the soma plant that I've ever seen. All I can do is congratulate the author."
Joan Halifax
"A noteworthy addition to the research on hallucinogens."
American Herb Association
"This book comes highly recommended by Dr. Willard Johnson-my college professor of religious studies-and I second the vote for anyone interested in history, plant drugs, and the origins of Eastern Religion."
Peter T. Furst
"In this meticulously researched, always scholarly but eminently readable study of Soma, the "elixir of immortality" and enlightenment of ancient India, David Spess takes us on a fascinating intellectual and spiritual journey way beyond Wasson's narrowly focused case for Amanita muscaria, the inebriating fly agaric mushroom of ecstatic Siberian shamanism. In a book thankfully free of both scientific and New Age jargon Spess presents convincing evidence that Soma's devotees knew of many different kinds and even colors of soma drinks with different associations and purposes, so that soma botany and taxonomy cannot be reduced to a single sacred plant species. A valuable contribution to both historical ethnobotany and comparative religion——and a good read."
Frank H. Lipp
"This fascinating tour de force of impeccable scholarship, written with enviable elan, succeeds brilliantly in disclosing the elusive identity of the soma plants of India and their impact on the cultural history of China, Europe and the Near East. Provocative, intriguing, and sure to generate scholarly debate, this seminal work is absolutely essential for anyone interested in soma and hallucinogenic plants."
author of Psychocalisthenics and Between Metaphysi Oscar Ichazo
"Soma brilliantly completes the enquiry on the scientific and botanical aspects, as well as the anthropological and cultural development, of this very important subject. A magnificent book destined to become a classic."
coauthor of Soma: The Divine Mushroom of Immor Wendy Doniger
"By far the most thorough survey of both the botanical and the psycho-spiritual aspects of the soma plant that I've ever seen. All I can do is congratulate the author."
author of The Fruitful Darkness and Shamanic Voice Joan Halifax
"A noteworthy addition to the research on hallucinogens."
Vol 16:4 American Herb Association
"This book comes highly recommended by Dr. Willard Johnson-my college professor of religious studies-and I second the vote for anyone interested in history, plant drugs, and the origins of Eastern Religion."
author of Psychocalisthenics and Between Metaphysi Oscar Ichazo
"Soma brilliantly completes the enquiry on the scientific and botanical aspects, as well as the anthropological and cultural development, of this very important subject. A magnificent book destined to become a classic."
From the Publisher
"Soma brilliantly completes the enquiry on the scientific and botanical aspects, as well as the anthropological and cultural development, of this very important subject. A magnificent book destined to become a classic."

"A noteworthy addition to the research on hallucinogens."

"By far the most thorough survey of both the botanical and the psycho-spiritual aspects of the soma plant that I've ever seen. All I can do is congratulate the author."

"In this meticulously researched, always scholarly but eminently readable study of Soma, the "elixir of immortality" and enlightenment of ancient India, David Spess takes us on a fascinating intellectual and spiritual journey way beyond Wasson's narrowly focused case for Amanita muscaria, the inebriating fly agaric mushroom of ecstatic Siberian shamanism. In a book thankfully free of both scientific and New Age jargon Spess presents convincing evidence that Soma's devotees knew of many different kinds and even colors of soma drinks with different associations and purposes, so that soma botany and taxonomy cannot be reduced to a single sacred plant species. A valuable contribution to both historical ethnobotany and comparative religion——and a good read."

"Spess makes a daring thesis—that Indo-Aryan ritualists created an entheogenic ceremony that eventually spread throughout all of Eurasia—and he argues cogently that soma and its rituals reached all of the great civilizations, creating alchemy and magic. This book reveals the history of the divine soma, not just in India, but in all subsequent searches for the golden germ and the elixir of immortality. A well-argued and convincing book, worth reading many times over!"

"This book comes highly recommended by Dr. Willard Johnson-my college professor of religious studies-and I second the vote for anyone interested in history, plant drugs, and the origins of Eastern Religion."

"This fascinating tour de force of impeccable scholarship, written with enviable elan, succeeds brilliantly in disclosing the elusive identity of the soma plants of India and their impact on the cultural history of China, Europe and the Near East. Provocative, intriguing, and sure to generate scholarly debate, this seminal work is absolutely essential for anyone interested in soma and hallucinogenic plants."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594775659
  • Publisher: Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Publication date: 8/1/2000
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 208
  • File size: 956 KB

Meet the Author

David Spess has a master's degree in microbiology/mycology and studied Sanskrit at the Naropa Institute. David has traveled throughout India and the Middle East researching this book. He was formerly a research mycologist for the FDA and has taught at the University of Colorado. He lives in New Mexico.
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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments

Introduction



1. Soma and Sacred Herbalism in the Ancient World

2.
Light, Ecstatic States, and Other Effects of Soma

3.
The Identity of Plants Used as Soma

4.
The Asvins and the Elixir of Immortality

5.
Soma and the Origins of Alchemy

6.
Soma and the Origins of Western Magic

7.
Soma and European Alchemy


Notes

Bibliography

Index
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2002

    This Theory Deserves Serious Attention

    A recent theory by David Spess proposes that the Soma plant is Nymphaea and Nelumbo (water lilies and the lotus plant) deserves attention. Spess begins with the fact that India has the largest variety of water lily and lotus plants in the world, and that some of these were known as Soma and called so in Sanskrit texts. The psychoactivity of these plants is discussed, and although certain books and articles claim that these plants are not psychoactive, Spess asserts that they are (Spess, 2000). Certain indigenous varieties of the plants are known to be visionary and auditory entheogens when properly processed. In particular, the flowers of Nymphaea induce ecstatic states similar to those from MDMA. Interestingly, the Rig Veda indicates that the deity Indra is initially stimulated, and then sent into entheogenic states by different preparations of Soma, which is a well known property of libations created from both water lily and lotus plants. Another aspect of the evidence provided is the medicinal properties of the plants, which is a key component in the description of Soma found in the Rig Veda. As described earlier, the hymns in the Rig Veda specifically speak of Soma¿s incredible rejuvenating and healing powers. Both lotus and water lily plants have historically been used to promote long term health in India, and have a special name for this property (rasayana) (Spess, 2000). The Rig Veda also speaks of Sura, a fermented alcoholic drink which is distinct from Soma and causes inebriation rather than entheogenic states. Some preparations of Soma did call for mixtures, which is further discussed in post-Vedic texts. Specific alkaloids found in Nelumbo block receptors that cause alcohol induced stupor, thus a mixture of Nymphaea and a fermented juice frees alcohol soluble alkaloids and increases the entheogenic potency of the drink while decreasing the alcoholic effects of it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2001

    Good Approach, Poorly Executed

    This academic treatise of the ancient Soma traditions is a holistic approach to the subject. The arguments presented by Spess are tantalizing indeed but unfortunately they are not well supported. Although some examples of his bold statements are given, most of these remain without any reference or factual support. Are we to just believe what he says? All in all the claims made are just that, claims. It may be important to have a more subjective angle in understanding the long-lost entheogenic concoction, if one believes it is even a worthwhile exercise, but this extended essay reads like the second draft of an undergraduate thesis.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2000

    Review from Peter T. Furst, Ph.D.

    In this meticulously researched, always scholarly but eminently readable study of Soma, the 'elixir of immortality' and enlightenment of ancient India, David Spess takes us on a fascinating intellectual and spiritual journey way beyond Wasson¿s narrowly focused case for Amanita muscaria, the inebriating fly agaric mushroom of ecstatic Siberian shamanism. In a book thankfully free of both scientific and New Age jargon Spess presents convincing evidence that Soma¿s devotees knew of many different kinds and even colors of soma drinks with different associations and purposes, so that soma botany and taxonomy cannot be reduced to a single sacred plant species. A valuable contribution to both historical ethnobotany and comparative religion----and a good read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

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